Thursday, July 29, 2010

We Need to Hear It

Recently after a Sunday church service, my husband and I made the spontaneous decision to take our family out to eat rather than heading home for the usual Sunday brunch of pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches. Like any sensible parents with young children (we have 4) we chose a family-friendly restaurant that is typically noisier at the lunchtime hour. The two oldest went to coloring their menus; our 4 yr. old is artistically inclined and this comes complete with a tongue-stuck-out-due-to-serious-concentration face! He is too cute! My baby was very content throwing crayons, her sippy cup, and various baby toys on the floor for mommy to pick up so she could try again. My 3 yr. old daughter was delightfully telling us stories about her class at church and who she played with, etc. There were some small kinks here and there, but altogether we had a nice time. For the majority of our time at the table, across from us sat two older couples enjoying a lunch together. I noticed them watching our children now and then; I found myself hoping that they weren't thinking our children were too loud, or ill-mannered. Just as they were winding down their visit and preparing to leave they looked at my husband and said "They're such good children; so well-behaved." He proudly smiled and said, "Thank you." I also thanked them for the compliment.

I cannot explain how much a compliment such as that means to a mom like me! It is such a good reminder that I must be doing a few things right. God knows I'm trying! Sometimes I'm looking at my children's behavior through a microscope analyzing every single action and I fail to see the big picture. This brief encounter reminded me (and my husband) that they are good kids. And whenever this occurs, we look at each other not long after and say to one another, "They're good kids." We need to hear it.

I had a similar situation this morning at the Dr.'s office. My oldest child's 7 yr. checkup was scheduled early in the morning. Last night I was telling my husband how I wished I had someone to help me during these times; I wished I didn't have to take all 4 kids. Even when we were finishing breakfast I had the fleeting thought of calling the office to see if they had a late afternoon appointment so I could just take my son alone when my husband returned home from work. Then, I reminded myself that this wasn't the most convenient plan for us and that certainly, I could take my kids to the Dr.'s office by myself. It's not as if I don't do this already. We shop together, go to friends' houses, go to the park, run other errands. I rarely if ever ask for help in these types of situations. But, it doesn't make my mental preparation any easier. I sometimes have to remind myself not to be anxious. "They will behave," I tell myself. And guess what? They behaved. I may have had to shush them once while the Dr. was asking me a question, but they were angels. My Dr., a father of 4, looked at me as we were discussing typical discipline and behaviors of boys, and said "They're good kids." I responded, "Well thank you for saying so." To which he responded, "No, trust me. I see kids all day and yours are good kids." We shook hands as he left the room. Boy, I sure like our doctor! I was beaming with pride! It's so good to hear it!

Now, I know that I'm not alone here. Those of us moms (and dads) who are especially concerned with raising well-rounded, well-mannered children can put so much pressure on ourselves. We can also directly judge ourselves and our own parenting success or failure based on our children's behaviors. It's unfair, but we do it. I recently read a facebook entry that a friend of mine had posted about her parenting. She's an amazingly gentle, positive mother to 7 children. She said that she sometimes feels she is doing "everything wrong." As you can imagine, her remark was met with much encouragement and reminders of the great job that she is doing. People who know her children well reminded her that they didn't get to be such great kids all on their own. We rarely credit ourselves for the good in our children, but often take the not-so-good very personally. We forget that children will be children and we will be just fine too--doing the best we know how to do!

My sister's oldest daughter recently prepared lunch for herself, my sister, and her two younger sisters voluntarily. Tears welled in me when I thought about this. What a wonderful young girl she is and she didn't get there alone. No, we can't take all the credit for our children's strengths, but we sure have something to do with it!

Each of these examples has reminded me that parenting is a lot of hard work and that we need regular affirmation that we're doing a good job. And, if you're taking the time to read a blog about parenting issues, you're doing a good job! Let me be the first to tell you that today! Pat yourself on the back. And (you may feel silly about this), but tell yourself, "You're a really good mom (or dad)." And mean it! We need to hear it! Plain and simple. We need to hear it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Band aids, Tylenol, and a Merry Heart!

Okay, so being a mom, I feel I am an expert on band aids, Tylenol, and pretty much all things concerning kids' ouchies. If you are a mom, I'm sure you can relate. Half of the time, my kids claim that they need a band aid (or a "boo-boo sticker" as we used to affectionately call them), when they really don't need one at all. But, for whatever reason (and Spider man may have something to do with it) they work! Just this morning my 4 yr. old scraped his finger on some unfinished wood where a doorknob had come off. That was all it was....a scrape. No blood. Yet, he insisted on a band aid. After complaining that we still didn't have Batman band aids, a shark band aid was applied, and he was instantly all better!

Tylenol (or Advil, or even generic Target brand ibuprofen, which I'm admitting I've purchased) can have a similar effect. However, this is something that I don't give just because my children ask for it. They really have to need it. (I'm not advocating the medication of children for no reason.....though I completely understand contemplating the use of antihistamines after the fourth night in a row that your toddler hasn't slept well.) Typically, my kids don't ask for pain medication. But I know when they need it. Whether it's a fever, some serious teething pain, or an earache, pain medication so often does the trick. On a stronger level, it has almost the same effect as that band aid when it kicks in. All better! I remember giving my 3 yr. old some pain medication one night when she woke up fussing, crying, and slightly feverish. After medicine and snuggling with mama for 20 minutes, she was actually running around, laughing, and playing doll house as if nothing was wrong.

A merry heart. Now, this is much more serious and ultimately life-changing. A merry heart can have a measurably greater impact than band aids or Tylenol ever could. The Bible says that a merry heart does good like a medicine. My Bishop talked about this at our mid-week service last night. I'm not trying to re-preach his message. The gist of it is that if we keep our hearts merry, we can survive anything. I believe this to be true, although it doesn't always feel true. If we live long enough, suffering will come to our doorsteps. What do we do when that happens? Do we allow devastation and desperation to turn into debilitating depression? Or do we purposefully look for the silver linings in the dark clouds knowing that there has to be a better tomorrow? I know the correct answer. However, I'm not declaring that it's always easy.

I also believe that what goes hand-in-hand with the decision to have a merry heart is the decision to pour out our souls to our Creator--the one who best knows our heart cries. As Lisa Harper wrote in her book, A Perfect Mess, "When we tell God where and why it hurts, we will experience divine embraces that last until our souls stop quivering." "...our Redeemer draws close to brokenhearted people." Just as our children have to tell us about each and every boo-boo, demanding our attention and comfort, we can come to God in much the same way. He already knows our pain, but it's for our comfort that we turn to Him. He can put a band aid on it and kiss the pain away. At other times, He may reach down and truly administer some tangible healing that makes the fever go away. But, when we choose a merry heart...and choose to trust Him with our heart, this can provide deeper healing still.

Mamas have a way of making the pain go away. Our kisses, sweet words, band aids, and Tylenol can all seem very magical when we use them. There are other times--and will be other times--that we cannot make the pain go away....when we can't turn off the heat. In these times, we hope that our example is strong. I hope that my example will be a powerful reminder to my children. I truly hope that they will recount all of the days when I kept a merry heart, even in the midst of difficult circumstances and trying times. I hope that they will remember that I put my hope, my trust, and my heart in the hands of one much bigger than me. I hope that they will choose a merry heart in the face of life's challenges, struggles, and disappointments. I hope that they will choose to bring all of their pain to the lap of the one who loves them unwaveringly.

Band aids and medicine are well and good. But when all else fails, one thing is sure to bring us closer to true healing...a merry heart!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Lingering Question

The most lingering, difficult, pervasive question that lies in my heart each moment of each day is this: "Should I even be a mom?" The reason that this is such a difficult question for me is because I already know the answer. Yet, I continue to ask myself this question because the answer is not altogether easy to accept. The answer, I believe, is that: no, I probably should not be a mom (at least according to my own expectations and standards). And, the second part of the answer is: with God, I am more than able to be a wonderful mom and therefore, yes, I should be a mom. Seems contradictory!

I was reading today about one of the founders of the Proverbs 31 ministry. Lysa Terkeurst's story was about how God called her into the ministry even though she believed she was a very unlikely candidate. This was both powerful and personal for me to read....not that I'm called into ministry. But, where I can relate is the calling, in general. I believe I was called to be a mom, even from a very young age. Really, it's the only thing I ever knew without a doubt that I wanted to do...and be. I was always drawn to babies, children, and all things mothering. I didn't rush necessarily to make this all happen; I was 28 when I had my first child. But, I had finally arrived! And, it really wasn't too long after my second child was born that the daily, lingering question began, "Should I even be a mom?"

I ask this question consciously and subconsciously all day long. It has been quite a personal struggle. Of course, it didn't stop me from having two more children after the first two were born--I love being a mom. It is the joy of my life! But, in the quiet of my own heart and soul the question stems from knowing that I fail continually. I fail my children, I fail myself, and I am sure I fail my culture's expectations of mothering. And why shouldn't I? I'm human! However, the feeling of failing as a mom in what I believe I should do; in how I should respond; in the initiatives I should take--this can be overwhelming!

Lysa Terkeurst's story was emotionally freeing to read because she also described a similar quandary of not feeling qualified to lead a ministry, yet being called by God anyhow. She said so perfectly "Often God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies those that He calls." And, as I read those words today I realized that that's the answer, in a nutshell, to my lingering, difficult, pervasive question. No, I may not be truly qualified to be a mom to four amazing children. But, God is continually dedicated to qualifying me for this amazing job each and every moment of each and every day! I can't explain it any better than this. I've often confided in my husband that it is so discouraging to me that the one thing I feel called to do is the one thing I struggle to feel capable of doing successfully. Well, in and of myself, I will most likely never be capable of doing this job of mothering successfully. But, I am never alone! God is my ever present help; only a whisper away. Only a heart's cry away. He longs to help me in this journey.

When I keep this hope and this reality close to my heart, I am able to feel more-than-able to be a wonderful mom. Yes, I should be a mom! And, more specifically, I should be a stay-at-home mom to Jaden, Luke, Ella, and Tessa....because that is exactly what I am doing. I am not doing this on my own, thankfully. I have a Helper who loves these children more than I do. And, He is using every situation, every struggle, every success, every prayer, every bath, every diaper change, and every trip to the store with 4 lively children as a means to qualify me for this most important job. I'm humbled. I'm grateful. And most importantly...I have an answer to my question.